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The Cuckoo's Calling
Part One - 3

The office door opened and Robin backed in, carrying a tray. Bristow turned his face away, his shoulders heaving and shaking. Through the open door Strike caught another glimpse of the besuited woman in the outer office; she was now scowling at him from over the top of a copy of the Daily Express.

Robin laid out two cups, a milk jug, a sugar bowl and a plate of chocolate biscuits, none of which Strike had ever seen before, smiled in perfunctory fashion at his thanks and made to leave.

‘Hang on a moment, Sandra,’ said Strike. ‘Could you…?’

The Cuckoo's Calling
Part One - 3

‘It’s just been a dreadful time,’ he whispered, taking deep breaths. ‘Lula… and my mother’s dying…’

Strike’s mouth was watering at the sight of the chocolate biscuits, because he had eaten nothing for what felt like days; but he felt it would strike an unsympathetic note to start snacking while Bristow jiggled and sniffed and mopped his eyes. The pneumatic drill was still hammering like a machine gun down in the street.

‘She’s given up completely since Lula died. It’s broken her. Her cancer was supposed to be in remission, but it’s come back, and they say there’s nothing more they can do. I mean, this is the second time. She had a sort of breakdown after Charlie. My father thought another child would make it better. They’d always wanted a girl. It wasn’t easy for them to be approved, but Lula was mixed race, and harder to place, so,’ he finished, on a strangled sob, ‘they managed to get her.

The Cuckoo's Calling
Part One - 4

Bristow hesitated, then moved back towards his abandoned chair.

His self-restraint crumbling at last, Strike took a chocolate biscuit and crammed it, whole, into his mouth; he took an unused notepad from his desk drawer, flicked it open, reached for a pen and managed to swallow the biscuit in the time it took Bristow to resume his seat.

‘Shall I take that?’ he suggested, pointing to the envelope Bristow was still clutching.

The Cuckoo's Calling
Part One - 6

When her self-appointed lunch hour was over, Robin washed and returned Mr Crowdy’s cups and tray, and his biscuits. Noting how eagerly he attempted to detain her in conversation on her second appearance, his eyes wandering distractedly from her mouth to her breasts, she resolved to avoid him for the rest of the week.

Still Strike did not return. For want of anything else to do, Robin neatened the contents of her desk drawers, disposing of what she recognised as the accumulated waste of other temporaries: two squares of dusty milk chocolate, a bald emery board and many pieces of paper carrying anonymous telephone numbers and doodles. There was a box of old-fashioned metal acro clips, which she had never come across before, and a considerable number of small, blank blue notebooks, which, though unmarked, had an air of officialdom. Robin, experienced in the world of offices, had the feeling that they might have been pinched from an institutional store cupboard.

The office telephone rang occasionally. Her new boss seemed to be a person of many names. One man asked for ‘Oggy’; another for ‘Monkey Boy’, while a dry, clipped voice asked that ‘Mr Strike’ return Mr Peter Gillespie’s call as soon as possible. On each occasion, Robin contacted Strike’s mobile phone, and reached only his voicemail. She therefore left verbal messages, wrote down each caller’s name and number on a Post-it note, took it into Strike’s office and stuck it neatly on his desk.

The Cuckoo's Calling

— Part One - 7 —

Strike had spent the early afternoon at the University of London Union building, where, by dint of walking determinedly past reception with a slight scowl on his face, he had gained the showers without being challenged or asked for his student card. He had then eaten a stale ham roll and a bar of chocolate in the café. After that he had wandered, blank-eyed in his tiredness, smoking between the cheap shops he visited to buy, with Bristow’s cash, the few necessities he needed now that bed and board were gone. Early evening found him holed up in an Italian restaurant, several large boxes propped up at the back, beside the bar, and spinning out his beer until he had half forgotten why he was killing time.

It was nearly eight before he returned to the office. This was the hour when he found London most lovable; the working day over, her pub windows were warm and jewel-like, her streets thrummed with life, and the indefatigable permanence of her aged buildings, softened by the street lights, became strangely reassuring. We have seen plenty like you, they seemed to murmur soothingly, as he limped along Oxford Street carrying a boxed-up camp bed. Seven and a half million hearts were beating in close proximity in this heaving old city, and many, after all, would be aching far worse than his. Walking wearily past closing shops, while the heavens turned indigo above him, Strike found solace in vastness and anonymity.

The Cuckoo's Calling
Part One - 7

The act of shopping for what he needed, and of setting up the bare necessities for himself, had lulled Strike back into the familiar soldierly state of doing what needed to be done, without question or complaint. He disposed of the Pot Noodle tub, turned on the lamp and sat himself down at the desk where Robin had spent most of the day.

As he assembled the raw components of a new file – the hardback folder, the blank paper and an acro clip; the notebook in which he had recorded Bristow’s interview; the pamphlet from the Tottenham; Bristow’s card – he noticed the new tidiness of the drawers, the lack of dust on the computer monitor, the absence of empty cups and debris, and a faint smell of Pledge. Mildly intrigued, he opened the petty cash tin, and saw there, in Robin’s neat, rounded writing, the note that he owed her forty-two pence for chocolate biscuits. Strike pulled forty of the pounds Bristow had given him from his wallet and deposited them in the tin; then, as an afterthought, counted out forty-two pence in coins and laid it on top.

Next, with one of the biros Robin had assembled neatly in the top drawer, Strike began to write, fluently and rapidly, beginning with the date. The notes of Bristow’s interview he tore out and attached separately to the file; the actions he had taken thus far, including calls to Anstis and to Wardle, were noted, their numbers preserved (but the details of his other friend, the provider of useful names and addresses, were not put on file).

The Cuckoo's Calling
Part Four - 6

Four paracetamol and a glass of Alka-Seltzer, which almost decided the vomiting question for him, were followed by fifteen minutes in the dingy toilet, with results offensive to both nose and ear; but he was sustained throughout by a feeling of profound gratitude for Robin’s absence. Back in the outer office, he drank two more bottles of water and turned off the alarm, which had set his throbbing brains rattling in his skull. After some deliberation, he chose a set of clean clothes, took shower gel, deodorant, razor, shaving cream and towel out of the kitbag, pulled a pair of swimming trunks out of the bottom of one of the cardboard boxes on the landing, extracted the pair of grey metal crutches from another, then limped down the metal stair with a sports bag over his shoulder and the crutches in his other hand.

He bought himself a family-sized bar of Dairy Milk on the way to Malet Street. Bernie Coleman, an acquaintance in the Army Medical Corps, had once explained to Strike how the majority of the symptoms associated with a crashing hangover were due to dehydration and hypoglycaemia, which were the inevitable results of prolonged vomiting. Strike munched his way through the chocolate, crutches jammed under his arm and every step jarring his head, which still felt as though it was being compressed by tight wires.

But the laughing god of drunkenness had not yet foresaken him. Agreeably detached from reality and from his fellow human beings, he walked down the steps to the ULU pool with an unfeigned sense of entitlement, and as usual nobody challenged him, not even the only other occupant of the changing room, who, after one glance of arrested interest at the prosthesis Strike was unstrapping, kept his eyes politely averted. His false leg stuffed into a locker along with yesterday’s clothes, and leaving the door open due to lack of change, Strike moved towards the shower on crutches, his belly spilling over the top of his trunks.

The Cuckoo's Calling
Part Four - 6

But the laughing god of drunkenness had not yet foresaken him. Agreeably detached from reality and from his fellow human beings, he walked down the steps to the ULU pool with an unfeigned sense of entitlement, and as usual nobody challenged him, not even the only other occupant of the changing room, who, after one glance of arrested interest at the prosthesis Strike was unstrapping, kept his eyes politely averted. His false leg stuffed into a locker along with yesterday’s clothes, and leaving the door open due to lack of change, Strike moved towards the shower on crutches, his belly spilling over the top of his trunks.

He noted, as he soaped himself, that the chocolate and paracetamol were beginning to take the edge off his nausea and pain. Now, for the first time, he walked out to the large pool. There were only two students in here, both in the fast lane and wearing goggles, oblivious to everything but their own prowess. Strike proceeded to the far side, set the crutches down carefully beside the steps and slid into the slow lane.

He was more unfit than he had ever been in his life. Ungainly and lopsided, he kept swimming into the side of the pool, but the cool, clean water was soothing to body and spirit. Panting, he completed a single length and rested there, his thick arms spread along the side of the pool, sharing the responsibility for his heavy body with the caressing water and gazing up at the high white ceiling.

The Cuckoo's Calling
Part Four - 14

‘Oh no, he wouldn’t have done that.’ She seemed to find this a strange suggestion. ‘I wanted her to be mine, just mine, you see. Alec would have wanted to protect me, if he knew anything. I could not have borne the idea that somebody out there might come and claim her one day. I had already lost Charlie, and I wanted a daughter so badly; the idea of losing her, too…’

The nurse returned bearing a tray with two cups on it and a plate of chocolate bourbons.

‘One coffee,’ she said cheerfully, placing it beside Strike on the nearer of the bedside tables, ‘and one camomile tea.’

The Silkworm
22

‘She wasn’t specific. She said, “He touched me” and “I don’t like being touched”. And that he gave her a paintbrush after he’d done it. It might not be that,’ said Strike in response to Robin’s loaded silence, her tense expression. ‘He might’ve accidentally knocked into her and given her something to placate her. She kept going off on one while I was there, shrieking because she didn’t get what she wanted or her mum had a go at her.’

Hungry, he tore open the cellophane on Robin’s gift, pulled out a chocolate bar and unwrapped it while Robin sat in thoughtful silence.

‘Thing is,’ said Strike, breaking the silence, ‘Quine implied in Bombyx Mori that Chard’s gay. I think that’s what he’s saying, anyway.’

The Silkworm
22

‘Hmm,’ said Robin, unimpressed. ‘And do you believe everything Quine wrote in that book?’

‘Well, judging by the fact that he set lawyers on Quine, it upset Chard,’ said Strike, breaking off a large chunk of chocolate and putting it in his mouth. ‘Mind you,’ he continued thickly, ‘the Chard in Bombyx Mori’s a murderer, possibly a rapist and his knob’s falling off, so the gay stuff might not have been what got his goat.’

‘It’s a constant theme in Quine’s work, sexual duality,’ said Robin and Strike stared at her, chewing, his brows raised. ‘I nipped into Foyles on the way to work and bought a copy of Hobart’s Sin,’ she explained. ‘It’s all about a hermaphrodite.’

The Silkworm
22

Strike swallowed.

‘He must’ve had a thing about them; there’s one in Bombyx Mori too,’ he said, examining the cardboard covering of his chocolate bar. ‘This was made in Mullion. That’s down the coast from where I grew up… How’s Hobart’s Sin – any good?’

‘I wouldn’t be fussed about reading past the first few pages if its author hadn’t just been murdered,’ admitted Robin.

The Silkworm
22

‘My point is,’ Robin pressed on doggedly, ‘that you can’t necessarily trust Quine when it comes to other people’s sex lives, because his characters all seem to sleep with anyone and anything. I looked him up on Wikipedia. One of the key features of his books is how characters keep swapping their gender or sexual orientation.’

‘Bombyx Mori’s like that,’ grunted Strike, helping himself to more chocolate. ‘This is good, want a bit?’

‘I’m supposed to be on a diet,’ said Robin sadly. ‘For the wedding.’

The Silkworm
22

She was forcing herself to speak matter-of-factly, as though they were discussing an abstract problem, but Robin had not been able to forget the pictures of Quine’s body: the dark cavern of the gouged-out torso, the burned-out crevices where once had been mouth and eyes. If she thought about what had been done to Quine too much, she knew that she might not be able to eat her lunch, or that she might somehow betray her horror to Strike, who was watching her with a disconcertingly shrewd expression in his dark eyes.

‘It’s all right to admit what happened to him makes you want to puke,’ he said through a mouthful of chocolate.

‘It doesn’t,’ she lied automatically. Then, ‘Well, obviously – I mean, it was horrific—’

The Silkworm
22

‘But,’ she resumed when he had sloped away, ‘Quine can’t have been killed that recently, can he? I mean, I’m no expert…’

‘Nor am I,’ said Strike, polishing off the last of the chocolate and contemplating the peanut brittle with less enthusiasm, ‘but I know what you mean. That body looked as though it had been there at least a week.’

‘Plus,’ said Robin, ‘there must have been a time lag between the murderer reading Bombyx Mori and actually killing Quine. There was a lot to organise. They had to get ropes and acid and crockery into an uninhabited house…’

The Silkworm
22

‘No,’ snapped Strike.

He felt sore, angry with himself, irritated by Matthew and suddenly a bit nauseous. He ought not to have eaten the chocolate before having steak, chips, crumble and three pints.

‘I need you to go back to the office and type up Gunfrey’s last invoice. And text me if those bloody journalists are still around, because I’ll go straight from here to Anstis’s, if they are.

The Silkworm
32

Even with snow chains on its tyres the old family Land Rover driven by Robin’s mother had had a hard job of it between York station and Masham. The wipers made fan-shaped windows, swiftly obliterated, onto roads familiar to Robin since childhood, now transformed by the worst winter she had seen in many years. The snow was relentless and the journey, which should have taken an hour, lasted nearly three. There had been moments when Robin had thought she might yet miss the funeral. At least she had been able to speak to Matthew on her mobile, explaining that she was close. He had told her that several others were still miles away, that he was afraid his aunt from Cambridge might not make it at all.

At home Robin had dodged the slobbering welcome of their old chocolate Labrador and hurtled upstairs to her room, pulling on the black dress and coat without bothering to iron them, laddering her first pair of tights in her haste, then running back downstairs to the hall where her parents and brothers were waiting for her.

They walked together through the swirling snow beneath black umbrellas, up the gentle hill Robin had climbed every day of her primary school years and across the wide square that was the ancient heart of her tiny home town, their backs to the giant chimney of the local brewery. The Saturday market had been cancelled. Deep channels had been made in the snow by those few brave souls who had crossed the square that morning, footprints converging near the church where Robin could see a crowd of black-coated mourners. The roofs of the pale gold Georgian houses lining the square wore mantels of bright, frozen icing, and still the snow kept coming. A rising sea of white was steadily burying the large square tombstones in the cemetery.

The Silkworm
33

‘Sorry I’m late,’ said Strike, limping over the threshold. ‘I had an accident leaving the house. My leg.’

He had not brought her anything, he realised, standing there in his overcoat. He should have brought wine or chocolates and he felt her notice it as her big eyes roved over him; she had good manners herself and he felt, suddenly, a little shabby.

‘And I’ve forgotten the wine I bought you,’ he lied. ‘This is crap. Chuck me out.’

The Silkworm
34

‘Love is a mirage,’ said Michael Fancourt on the television screen. ‘A mirage, a chimera, a delusion.’

Robin was sitting between Matthew and her mother on the faded, sagging sofa. The chocolate Labrador lay on the floor in front of the fire, his tail thumping lazily on the rug in his sleep. Robin felt drowsy after two nights of very little sleep and days of unexpected stresses and emotion, but she was trying hard to concentrate on Michael Fancourt. Beside her Mrs Ellacott, who had expressed the optimistic hope that Fancourt might let drop some bons mots that would help with her essay on Webster, had a notebook and pen on her lap.

‘Surely,’ began the interviewer, but Fancourt talked over him.

The Silkworm
42

‘I’d love that,’ said Robin.

Orlando set to work with her tongue between her teeth. Robin said nothing, but watched the picture develop. Feeling that Robin had already forged a better rapport with Orlando than he had managed, Strike ate a chocolate biscuit offered by Edna and made small talk about the snow.

Eventually Orlando finished her picture, tore it out of the pad and pushed it across to Robin.

The Silkworm
50

‘I’m not most women.’

‘Yeah, I’ve noticed that,’ said Strike, taking a chocolate biscuit.

‘Have they analysed it yet?’ she asked. ‘The dog poo?’

Career of Evil
3

Strike had managed to make himself unpopular among the Metropolitan Police over the previous year, which was not entirely his fault. The fulsome press coverage of his two most notable detective triumphs had understandably galled those officers whose efforts he had trumped. However, Wardle, who had helped him out on the first of those cases, had shared in some of the subsequent glory and relations between them remained reasonably amicable. Robin had only ever seen Wardle in the newspaper reports of the case. Their paths had not crossed in court.

He turned out to be a handsome man with a thick head of chestnut hair and chocolate-brown eyes, who was wearing a leather jacket and jeans. Strike did not know whether he was more amused or irritated by the reflexive look Wardle gave Robin on entering the room—a swift zigzag sweep of her hair, her figure and her left hand, where his eyes lingered for a second on the sapphire and diamond engagement ring.

“Eric Wardle,” he said in a low voice, with what Strike felt was an unnecessarily charming smile. “And this is Detective Sergeant Ekwensi.”

Career of Evil
6

“No problem,” said Robin. “I wanted an early night anyway.”

She took a low-calorie hot chocolate and a copy of Grazia to bed with her, but she could not concentrate. After ten minutes, she got up and fetched her laptop, took it back to bed with her and Googled Jeff Whittaker.

She had read the Wikipedia entry before, during one of her guilty trawls through Strike’s past, but now she read with greater attention. It started with a familiar disclaimer:

Career of Evil
6

In 2005 Whittaker was jailed for dealing crack cocaine.[15]

Robin read the page twice. Her concentration was poor tonight. Information seemed to slide off the surface of her mind, failing to be absorbed. Parts of Whittaker’s history stood out, glaringly strange. Why would anyone conceal a corpse for a month? Had Whittaker feared that he would be charged with murder again, or was there some other reason? Bodies, limbs, pieces of dead flesh… She sipped the hot chocolate and grimaced. It tasted of flavored dust; in the pressure she felt to be slim in her wedding dress, she had forsworn chocolate in its true form for a month now.

She replaced the mug on her bedside cabinet, returned her fingers to the keyboard and searched for images of Jeff Whittaker trial.

Career of Evil
6

The bathroom fan whirred into life next door. With a guilty start, Robin shut down the page she had been viewing. Matthew had lately developed a habit of borrowing her laptop and a few weeks previously she had caught him reading her emails to Strike. With this in mind, she reopened the web page, cleared her browsing history, brought up her settings and, after a moment’s consideration, changed her password to DontFearTheReaper. That would scupper him.

As she slid out of bed to go and throw the hot chocolate down the kitchen sink it occurred to Robin that she had not bothered to look up any details about Terence “Digger” Malley. Of course, the police would be far better placed than she or Strike to find a London gangster.

Doesn’t matter, though, she thought sleepily, heading back to the bedroom. It isn’t Malley.

Career of Evil
13

Having read several scientific papers online, Robin now knew that sufferers of BIID were rare and that the precise cause of their condition was unknown. Visits to support sites had already shown her how much people seemed to dislike sufferers of the condition. Angry comments peppered the message boards, accusing BIID sufferers of coveting a status that others had had thrust upon them by bad luck and illness, of wanting to court attention in a grotesque and offensive manner. Equally angry retorts followed the attacks: did the writer really think the sufferer wanted to have BIID? Did they not understand how difficult it was to be transabled—wanting, needing, to be paralyzed or amputated? Robin wondered what Strike would think of the BIID sufferers’ stories, were he to read them. She suspected that his reaction would not be sympathetic.

Downstairs, the sitting room door opened and she heard a brief snatch of a commentator’s voice, her father telling their old chocolate Labrador to get out because it had farted and Martin’s laughter.

To her own frustration, the exhausted Robin could not remember the name of the young girl who had written to Strike, asking for advice on cutting off her leg, but she thought it had been Kylie or something similar. Scrolling slowly down the most densely populated support site she had found, she kept an eye out for usernames that might in any way connect to her, because where else would a teenager with an unusual fixation go to share her fantasy, if not cyberspace?

Career of Evil
27

“Two hundred and thirty quid for an old mobile number,” he said as she pulled away from the curb and accelerated towards the town center. “I hope it’s bloody worth it. We’re looking for Adam and Eve Street—she says it’s just up here on the right—the café’s called Appleby’s. She’s going to meet me there in a bit.”

Robin found a parking space and they waited, discussing what Ingrid had said about Brockbank while eating the Danish pastries that Strike had stolen from the breakfast buffet. Robin was starting to appreciate why Strike was carrying extra weight. She had never before undertaken an investigation that lasted more than twenty-four hours. When every meal had to be sourced in passing shops and eaten on the move, you descended quickly to fast food and chocolate.

“That’s her,” said Strike forty minutes later, clambering out of the Land Rover and heading for the interior of Appleby’s. Robin watched the blonde approach, now in jeans and a fake-fur jacket. She had the body of a glamour model and Robin was reminded of Platinum. Ten minutes passed, then fifteen; neither Strike nor the girl reappeared.

Career of Evil
30

Glad to have got rid of her, Strike made himself his third mug of tea of the morning and laid back down on the bed with a pile of newspapers. Several of them displayed a photograph of MURDER VICTIM KELSEY PLATT, wearing a navy school uniform, a smile on her plain, pimply face.

Dressed only in boxers, his hairy belly no smaller for the plentiful takeaways and chocolate bars that had filled it in the last fortnight, he munched his way through a packet of Rich Tea biscuits and skimmed several of the stories, but they told him nothing he did not already know, so he turned instead to the anticipatory comment about the next day’s Arsenal–Liverpool match.

His mobile rang while he was reading. He had not realized how tightly wound he was: he reacted so fast that Wardle was taken by surprise.

Career of Evil
47

“Call me if there’s any news. Or even if there isn’t.”

The brief spurt of enthusiasm she had felt at the prospect of going back to Wollaston Close had faded by the time she had reached Catford station. She was not sure why she felt suddenly downcast and anxious. Perhaps she was hungry. Determined to break herself of the chocolate habit that was jeopardizing her ability to fit into the altered wedding dress, she bought herself an unappetizing-looking energy bar before boarding the train.

Chewing the sawdusty slab as the train carried her towards Elephant and Castle, she found herself absentmindedly rubbing her ribs where she had collided with the large man in the goatee. Being sworn at by random people was the price you paid for living in London, of course; she could not ever remember a stranger swearing at her in Masham, not even once.

Career of Evil
51

“Cheers for the sandwich an’ ev’rything,” said Stephanie, who had reappeared beside her. “I’m gonna—”

“Have something else. Some chocolate or something,” Robin urged her, even though the waitress mopping table tops looked ready to throw them out.

“Why?” asked Stephanie, showing the first sign of suspicion.

Lethal White
One Year Later - 1

Lucy and his friends assumed that the presence of the car and additional employees meant that Strike had at last achieved a state of prosperous security. In fact, once he had paid the exorbitant costs of garaging the car in central London and met payroll, Strike was left with almost nothing to spend on himself and continued to live in two rooms over the office, cooking on a single-ringed hob.

The administrative demands freelance contractors made and the patchy quality of the men and women available to the agency were a constant headache. Strike had found only one man whom he had kept on semi-permanently: Andy Hutchins, a thin, saturnine ex-policeman ten years older than his new boss, who had come highly recommended by Strike’s friend in the Met, Detective Inspector Eric Wardle. Hutchins had taken early retirement when he had been struck by a sudden bout of near-paralysis of his left leg, followed by a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. When he had applied for contract work, Hutchins had warned Strike that he might not always be fit; it was, he explained, an unpredictable disease, but he had not relapsed in three years. He followed a special low-fat diet that to Strike sounded positively punitive: no red meat, no cheese, no chocolate, nothing deep-fried. Methodical and patient, Andy could be trusted to get the job done without constant supervision, which was more than could be said for any of Strike’s other hires apart from Robin. It seemed incredible to him, still, that she had walked into his life as a temporary secretary to become his partner and outstanding colleague.

Whether they were still friends, though, was another question.

Lethal White
One Year Later - 4

“His justification was feeble, full of holes. He is,” said the white-haired surgeon, stiff-lipped but full of foreboding, “and always has been a… ah… womanizer. I checked his internet history before confronting him and found a website where young women solicit cash contributions for their cosmetic enhancements, in return for explicit pictures. I fear… I hardly know what… but it might be that he has made an arrangement with these women that is not… monetary. Two of the younger women had been asked to call a number I did not recognize, but which suggested surgery might be arranged free in return for an ‘exclusive arrangement.’”

Strike had not so far witnessed Dodgy meeting any women outside his regular hours. He spent Mondays and Fridays in his Harley Street consulting rooms and the mid-week at the private hospital where he operated. Whenever Strike had tailed him outside his places of work, he had merely taken short walks to purchase chocolate, to which he seemed addicted. Every night, he drove his Bentley home to his wife and children in Gerrards Cross, tailed by Strike in his old blue BMW.

Tonight, both surgeons would be attending a Royal College of Surgeons dinner with their wives, so Strike had left his BMW in its expensive garage. The hours rolled by in tedium, Strike mostly concerned with shifting the weight off his prosthesis at regular intervals as he leaned up against railings, parking meters and doorways. A steady trickle of clients pressed the bell at Dodgy’s door and were admitted, one by one. All were female and most were sleek and well-groomed. At five o’clock, Strike’s mobile vibrated in his breast pocket and he saw a text from his client.

Lethal White
One Year Later - 9

Henrik Ibsen, Rosmersholm

At half past eleven the following Friday, a suited and freshly shaven Strike emerged from Green Park Tube station and proceeded along Piccadilly. Double-deckers rolled past the windows of luxury shops, which were capitalizing on Olympics fever to push an eclectic mix of goods: gold-wrapped chocolate medals, Union Jack brogues, antique sporting posters and, over and again, the jagged logo that Jimmy Knight had compared to a broken swastika.

Strike had allowed a generous margin of time to reach Pratt’s, because his leg was again aching after two days in which he had rarely been able to take the weight off his prosthesis. He had hoped that the tech conference in Epping Forest, where he had spent the previous day, might have offered intervals of rest, but he had been disappointed. His target, the recently fired partner of a start-up, was suspected of trying to sell key features of their new app to competitors. For hours, Strike had tailed the young man from booth to booth, documenting all his movements and his interactions, hoping at some point that he would tire and sit. However, between the coffee bar where customers stood at high tables, to the sandwich bar where everyone stood and ate sushi with their fingers out of plastic boxes, the target had spent eight hours walking or standing. Coming after long hours of lurking in Harley Street the day before, it was hardly surprising that the removal of his prosthesis the previous evening had been an uncomfortable affair, the gel pad that separated stump from artificial shin difficult to prize off. As he passed the cool off-white arches of the Ritz, Strike hoped Pratt’s contained at least one comfortable chair of generous proportions.

Lethal White
One Year Later - 26

“Chest looks fine!” said the radiographer pushing it.

They sat by Jack’s side talking quietly for another hour, until Robin went to buy more tea and chocolate bars from nearby vending machines, which they consumed in the waiting room while Robin filled Strike in about everything she had discovered about Winn’s charity.

“You’ve outdone yourself,” said Strike, halfway down his second Mars bar. “That was excellent work, Robin.”

Troubled Blood
Part One - 3

Had her day gone as planned, Robin Ellacott would have been tucked up in bed in her rented flat in Earl’s Court at this moment, fresh from a long bath, her laundry done, reading a new novel. Instead, she was sitting in her ancient Land Rover, chilly from sheer exhaustion despite the mild night, still wearing the clothes she’d put on at four-thirty that morning, as she watched the lit window of a Pizza Express in Torquay. Her face in the wing mirror was pale, her blue eyes bloodshot, and the strawberry blonde hair currently hidden under a black beanie hat needed a wash.

From time to time, Robin dipped her hand into a bag of almonds sitting on the passenger seat beside her. It was only too easy to fall into a diet of fast food and chocolate when you were running surveillance, to snack more often than needed out of sheer boredom. Robin was trying to eat healthily in spite of her unsociable hours, but the almonds had long since ceased to be appetizing, and she craved nothing more than a bit of the pizza she could see an overweight couple enjoying in the restaurant window. She could almost taste it, even though the air around her was tangy with sea salt and underlain by the perpetual fug of old Wellington boots and wet dog that imbued the Land Rover’s ancient fabric seats.

The object of her surveillance, whom she and Strike had nicknamed “Tufty” for his badly fitting toupee, was currently out of view. He’d disappeared into the pizzeria an hour and a half previously with three companions, one of whom, a teenager with his arm in a cast, was visible if Robin craned her head sideways into the space above the front passenger seat. This she did every five minutes or so, to check on the progress of the foursome’s meal. The last time she had looked, ice cream was being delivered to the table. It couldn’t, surely, be much longer.

Troubled Blood
Part One - 6

“I gave them hell, to tell you the truth,” said Anna shamefacedly. “But all credit to Cyn, she stuck by me. She never gave up. She and Dad had had kids together by then—I’ve got a younger brother and sister—and there was family therapy and holidays with bonding activities, all led by Cyn, because my father certainly didn’t want to do it. The subject of my mother just makes him angry and aggrieved. I remember him yelling at me, didn’t I realize how terrible it was for him to have it all dragged up again, how did I think he felt…

“When I was fifteen I tried to find my mother’s friend, Oonagh, the one she was supposed to be meeting the night she disappeared. They were Bunny Girls together,” said Anna, with a little smile, “but I didn’t know that at the time. I tracked Oonagh down in Wolverhampton, and she was quite emotional to hear from me. We had a couple of lovely phone calls. She told me things I really wanted to know, about my mother’s sense of humor, the perfume she wore—Rive Gauche, I went out and blew my birthday money on a bottle next day—how she was addicted to chocolate and was an obsessive Joni Mitchell fan. My mother came more alive to me when I was talking to Oonagh than through the photographs, or anything Dad or Cyn had told me.

“But my father found out I’d spoken to Oonagh and he was furious. He made me give him Oonagh’s number and called her and accused her of encouraging me to defy him, told her I was troubled, in therapy and what I didn’t need was people ‘stirring.’ He told me not to wear the Rive Gauche, either. He said he couldn’t stand the smell of it.

Troubled Blood
Part One - 7

“Shit,” he said again, “sorry,” and immediately reached for a ciga­rette. “I’ve been kipping on the world’s most uncomfortable sofa and the kids have woken me up at the crack of fucking dawn every day. Want anything from the food bag?”

“Yes,” said Robin, throwing the diet to the winds. She was in urgent need of a pick-me-up. “Chocolate. English or Cornish, I don’t mind.”

“Sorry,” Strike said for a third time. “You were telling me about a social theory or something.”

Troubled Blood
Part Two - 12

“Oh, very nice,” said Pat approvingly.

Chocolates, it seemed, were a far more appropriate gift for a young woman than a pack of cards with Al-Qaeda members on them.

“Remembered you like a bit of salted caramel,” said Morris, looking proud of himself.

Troubled Blood
Part Three - 15

As for Mandy White, the schoolgirl who’d claimed to have seen Margot at a rainy window, there were so many Amanda Whites of approximately the right age to be found online that Robin was starting to despair of ever finding the right one. Robin found this line of inquiry particularly frustrating, firstly because there was a good chance that White was no longer Mandy’s surname, and secondly because, like the police before her, Robin thought it highly unlikely that Mandy had actually seen Margot at the window that night.

Having examined and discounted the Facebook accounts of another six Amanda Whites, Robin yawned, stretched and decided she was owed a break. Setting her laptop down on a side table, she swung her legs carefully off the sofa so as not to disturb Wolfgang, and crossed the open-plan area that combined kitchen, dining and living rooms, to make herself one of the low-calorie hot chocolates she was trying to convince herself was a treat, because she was still, in the middle of this long, sedentary stretch of surveillance, trying to keep an eye on her waistline.

As she stirred the unappetizing powder into boiling water, a whiff of tuberose mingled with the scent of synthetic caramel. In spite of her bath, Fracas still lingered in her hair and on her pajama. This perfume, she’d finally decided, had been a costly mistake. Living in a dense cloud of tuberose made her feel not only perpetually on the verge of a headache, but also as though she were wearing fur and pearls in broad daylight.

Troubled Blood
Part Three - 15

Wintry specks of rain were dotting the window behind the dining table. Wolfgang was fast asleep again. Robin couldn’t face perusing the social media accounts of another fifty Amanda Whites tonight. As she picked up The Demon of Paradise Park, she hesitated. She’d made a rule for herself (because it had been a long, hard journey to reach the place where she was now, and she didn’t want to lose her current good state of mental health) not to read this book after dark, or right before bed. After all, the information it contained could be found summarized online: there was no need to hear in his own words what Creed had done to each of the women he’d tortured and killed.

Nevertheless, she picked up her hot chocolate, opened the book to the page she had marked with a Tesco receipt, and began to read at the point she’d left off three days previously.

Convinced that Bamborough had fallen victim to the serial killer now dubbed the Essex Butcher, Talbot made enemies among his colleagues with what they felt was his obsessive focus on one theory.

Troubled Blood
Part Three - 16

Other kinds of presents are available, Strike.

“Chocolates, then. Same applies. Harder to see why Satchwell and Conti took themselves off the radar, though,” said Strike, running his hand over his unshaven chin. “The press interest in them died away fairly fast. And you’d have found Conti online if it was a simple case of a married name. There can’t be as many ‘Gloria Contis’ as there are Amanda Whites.”

“I’ve been wondering whether she went to live in Italy,” said Robin. “Her dad’s first name was Ricardo. She could’ve had relatives there. I’ve sent off a few Facebook inquiries to some Contis, but the only people who’ve responded so far don’t know a Gloria. I’m pretending I’m doing genealogical research, because I’m worried she might not respond if I mention Margot straight off.”

Troubled Blood
Part Three - 17

“It bloody is,” said the first twin, to the raucous laughter of the second.

“Swear at me again, and there’ll be no chocolate pudding for you tonight, Jayda,” said Gregory. “Nor will you borrow my iPad.”

Jayda pulled a grotesque face but did not, in fact, swear again.

Troubled Blood
Part Three - 17

“Exactly. Creed and Baphomet have a lot in common,” said Strike.

In the pause that followed, they heard the twins running downstairs and loudly asking their foster mother whether she’d bought chocolate mousse.

“Look—I’d love you to prove it was Creed,” said Gregory at last. “Prove Dad was right all along. There’d be no shame in Creed being too clever for him. He was too clever for Lawson, as well; he’s been too clever for everyone. I know there wasn’t any sign of Margot Bamborough in Creed’s basement, but he never revealed where he’d put Andrea Hooton’s clothes and jewelry, either. He was varying the way he disposed of bodies at the end. He was unlucky with Hooton, chucking her off the cliffs; unlucky the body was found so quickly.”

Troubled Blood
Part Three - 18

Oh, wouldn’t you really? thought Robin, as she hitched on another fake smile, and got up to leave.

A blustery, damp wind was blowing when she left the solicitor’s. Robin trudged back toward Finborough Road, until finally, her face numb, her hair whipping into her eyes, she turned into a small café where, in defiance of her own healthy eating rules, she bought a large latte and a chocolate brownie. She sat and stared out at the rainswept street, enjoying the comfort of cake and coffee, until her mobile rang again.

It was Strike.

Troubled Blood
Part Three - 18

“Well, great,” said Strike. “Enjoy the rest of your day off.”

He rang off. Robin picked up the rest of the brownie and finished it slowly, savoring every bite. In spite of the prospect of mediation with Matthew, and doubtless because of a much-needed infusion of chocolate, she felt a good deal happier than she had ten minutes previously.

Troubled Blood
Part Three - 20

“Irritable bowel syndrome. It flares up. The pain is sometimes —well. The funny thing is, I was fine all the time I was away—I’ve been staying with my eldest daughter, they’re in Hampshire, that’s why I didn’t get your letter straight away—but the moment I got home, I called Jan, I said, you’ll have to come, I’m in that much pain—and my GP’s no use,” she added, with a little moue of disgust. “Woman. All my own fault, according to her! I should be cutting out everything that makes life worth living—I was telling them, Jan,” she said, as her friend backed into the room with a laden tea tray, “that you’re a saint.”

“Oh, carry on. Everyone likes a good review,” said Janice cheerfully. Strike was halfway out of his chair to help her with the tray, on which stood both teapot and cafetière, but like Mrs. Gupta she refused help, depositing it on a padded ottoman. An assortment of chocolate biscuits, some foil-wrapped, lay on a doily; the sugar bowl had tongs and the flowered fine bone china suggested “for best.” Janice joined her friend on the sofa and poured out the hot drinks, serving Irene first.

“Help yourself to biscuits,” Irene told her visitors, and then, eyeing Strike hungrily, “So—the famous Cameron Strike! I nearly had a heart attack when I saw your name at the bottom of the letter. And you’re going to try and crack Creed, are you? Will he talk to you, do you think? Will they let you go and see him?”

Troubled Blood
Part Three - 20

“So you think Douthwaite’s visits to Margot were because of his health?” asked Robin. “Not because he had a romantic interest in—?”

“He did send her chocolates one time,” said Irene, “but if you ask me, it was more like she was an agony aunt.”

“Well, ’e ’ad these ’ead pains and ’e was def’nitely nervous. Depressed, maybe,” said Janice. “Everyone ’ad blamed him for what happened to that poor girl ’oo killed ’erself, but I don’t know… and some of me ovver neighbors told me there were young men coming in and out of his flat—”

Troubled Blood
Part Three - 20

“I don’t know what that said. I had to go into her consulting room to give her a message, see, and I saw it lying on her desk. Same writing, I recognized it at once. She didn’t like me seeing it, I could tell. Screwed it up and threw it in the bin.”

Janice passed round fresh cups of tea and coffee. Irene helped herself to another chocolate biscuit.

“I doubt you’ll know,” said Strike, “but I wondered if you ever had any reason to suspect that Margot was pregnant before she—”

Troubled Blood
Part Three - 21

“Just a lime and soda, please, as I’m driving.”

As Strike walked into the pub, there was a sudden chorus of “Happy Birthday to You.” For a split-second, seeing helium balloons in the corner, he was horror-struck, thinking that Robin had brought him here for a surprise party; but a bare heartbeat later, it registered that he didn’t recognize a single face, and that the balloons formed the figure 80. A tiny woman with lavender hair was beaming at the top of a table full of family: flashes went off as she blew out the candles on a large chocolate cake. Applause and cheers followed, and a toddler blew a feathered whistle.

Strike headed toward the bar, still slightly shaken, taking himself to task for having imagined, for a moment, that Robin would have arranged a surprise party for him. Even Charlotte, with whom he’d had the longest and closest relationship of his life, had never done that. Indeed, Charlotte had never allowed anything as mundane as his birthday to interfere with her own whims and moods. On Strike’s twenty-seventh, when she’d been going through one of her intermittent phases of either rampant jealousy, or rage at his refusal to give up the army (the precise causes of their many scenes and rows tended to blur in his mind), she’d thrown his wrapped gift out of a third-floor window in front of him.

Troubled Blood
Part Three - 24

“Did you still see a lot of each other, once Margot went off to medical school?”

“Oh yeah, because she was still working at the club part time. How she did it all, studying, working, supporting her family… living on nerves and chocolate, skinny as ever. And then, at the start of her second year, she met Roy.”

Oonagh sighed.